A Life Lesson from the Frozen Mailman
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
— United States Postal Service “Motto”
Yesterday afternoon, WGN News reported that “Due to projected deteriorating weather conditions related to Polar Vortex Jayden, postal delivery operations will be suspended… As for delivery in the Chicago area, the USPS said the weather could ‘curtail’ delivery plans.”
No kidding. Wednesday, January 30, 2019 in Chicago will be one history remembers. This may be the coldest day any of us alive right now ever see. The experts are telling us to stay indoors. I’ll spend most of the day that way, but I’m also going to take a moment to layer up, throw on my dad’s hand-me-down full-length racoon fur coat and step outside because I want to feel it. I want to know what -50º F (accounting for the wind chill) fells like, tastes like, smells like, hurts like. Only a fool would pass up a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For those of you concerned I’m going to take my 10-month-old son out there, you can relax. I am not going to expose his perfect flesh and pink lungs to this kind of extreme. He can resent me for it when he’s older.
Before I continue, let’s take a moment to talk about Polar Vortex Jayden. Jayden. You know who Polar Vortex Jayden is. He’s the androgynously gorgeous fifth grader with New Direction hair and ScarJo lips; his dad works in finance and is gearing up to retire in six years when he turns 48; his mom “works” — her words — as a Pilates instructor; they live in what might as well be the Home Alone house; they buy Land Rovers exclusively; Jayden is an incredible basketball player because his dad is an intense bleacher parent and Jayden doesn’t want to let daddy down; they give money to charity and attend the galas but have never been sighted volunteering; mom’s hero is Michelle Obama — the only black woman other than Oprah she knows by name; Jayden is the only kid in his class not on Adderall or the spectrum, and he’s also the only one who still wets the bed twice a month like clockwork. You know who Polar Vortex Jayden is.
But let’s get back to the mail.
Chicago mail sucks. I doubt anyone will notice the curtailed delivery plans. And if we do, so what? Screw your mail. The Midwest is on pause for a few days so we don’t all die. And sadly, some of us will die
The first time I remember experiencing a cold snap related to what we’re facing now was twenty-five years ago. I was a freshman in high school and it was during my first round of finals. I grew up within walking distance of my elementary, junior high, and high schools, and it was rare that my parents dropped me off or picked me up in a car. But this first finals day was brutal.
I don’t remember how cold it was. I’m confident that in comparison, it was a heat wave with today. But it was cold enough that my grandmother, who lived next door to me, picked me up shortly after noon when my tests finished, and drove me the few blocks home. Almost. She drove me to her home, which was one lot closer to the high school than mine. There was snow on the ground and it hurt to breath. My eyes watered as I walked across the yard from Nonny and Poppy’s house to my own. That’s when I felt something brush past me.
It was our town’s mailman. He had been the mailman my whole life. I didn’t know his name, but we were always friendly when we saw each other. He was friendly with everyone. The town loved this guy. He stomped through the snow blower pile and onto my driveway and b-lined it for the mailbox at my front door. I hurried to catch up with him.
Having dropped the mail in its box, he turned toward me to head to the next house. His thick beard was frozen. Stalactites formed of breath and snot clung to the whiskers. His nose looked like it had contracted frostbite. His lips quivered. His teeth chattered. His eyes were red and watery. He looked desperate.
I stopped him. “Hey. Would you like to come in for a few minutes? I can make you some coffee or hot chocolate…”
Desperation turned to hope, maybe gratitude. “No. No thank you.” He could barely get the words out. His jaw was icelocked.
“I could make a fire…” I realized it sounded like I was asking him in for a romantic tryst.
“Thank you. But I… I just need to finish my route.”
With that, he shot off across our yard to the Izzos’ house next door. The Izzos, I must tell you, were dicks. They would come banging on our door, screaming bloody murder whenever they saw yellow snow. They blamed it on our dog Max. We quickly stopped walking Max that direction but the yellow snow kept appearing. You know, because we weren’t the only family with a dog during winter. And, because late at night, I’d walk outside and take a piss in their yard.
Inside my house, warm and sure that I bombed both of my finals, I watched our mailman work his way down the other side of the street then, victorious, hop into his flimsy little mail truck that had been winterized with a flimsy door. And off he went.
That mailman died a few years ago. He was old enough where people say he was too young to die. I don’t remember the cause of death, but I remember feeling really bummed about it. Because I think about that winter occurrence often. Most of the time, I admire him for his dedication to his job. Sometimes I wonder if I came on too strong. Perhaps it was neither. Perhaps it was more than just a job and more than some weird kid inviting him in for cocoa by the fire.
Perhaps he turned down my offer to warm up, thaw his beard, and revive his nose because he knew, as too many of us never learn or learn too late, that once you stop something you set out to achieve, it’s near impossible to start again.
As we face the dark, nasty bite of Polar Vortex Jayden and the remaining wintery days that we’ll have to face every year that follows, we have to commit to remind ourselves to always keep going. And if you get a chance, swing by the Izzo’s house and take a piss on their snowy lawn.